Wishes and wisdom

REUNION, Fla. – Molly Esordi seemed more nervous answering questions in front of TV cameras than she did on the first tee. With Annika Sorenstam standing a few feet away, Esordi smacked her drive down the left side of the fairway at Reunion Resort’s Palmer Course. It was extremely well struck considering her best score is 102.

The first time I hit a tee shot in front of Annika my heart started moving toward my throat. At age 14, however, Esordi can put things in perspective better than adults twice her age. Perhaps that’s why she conquered the toughest shot in golf with incredible ease.

What makes Molly wise beyond her years? Cancer. More specifically, Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“It’s just so shocking,” Esordi said. “You don’t think it’s going to happen to you and then it does.”

Diagnosed with the disease in late 2006, the Children’s Hospital in Detroit quickly put Molly in touch with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Esordi knew she wanted her wish to center around golf, a passion that kicked up 10 notches when she and her father attended the 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills.

Most people who hear about Make-A-Wish assume it’s akin to a dying wish. Thankfully, that’s not the case. Michael Pressendo, director of brand communications for Make-A-Wish, was on hand at Reunion and immediately clarified that misnomer. The program is designed for patients, like Molly, who face life-threatening illnesses. Right now she’s in remission.

“She has now physically gotten back to where she should be,” said Molly’s father, Tom. Her long, dark hair has been replaced with a cropped cut, but she’s swiping balls just the same.

Sorenstam became a National Ambassador for Make-A-Wish one year ago, and Jan. 31 marked the first time she’d been given the opportunity to grant a wish. Surely this day stood out in ways even a major championship can’t touch.

“It’s an honor,” Sorenstam said. “When they asked me, I said yes right away, just tell me when and where and I’m here.”

That Sorenstam could grant Molly’s dream on the grounds of her own dreamland – the Annika Academy – made it all the more gratifying. Molly flew from her home in Grosse Ile, Mich., to spend the day with her hero. The morning started with a tour of the academy followed by lunch with Annika. They also spent time on the range before heading out for nine holes, television cameras and reporters in tow.

When asked if she was nervous about hitting balls in front of Annika, Molly dismissed it with “a little bit, not too bad.” She and a friend had counted down the days for a year until her wish came true. Making the trip with her to Florida were her parents, Tom and Leslie, sisters Sarah (12) and Margaret (10), and brother Nicholas (5).

Esordi said the hardest part of dealing with cancer is the “mental part of it all.” She spent last winter undergoing chemotherapy but recovered quickly enough to play for the Grosse Ile High School golf team in the fall. Her long-term goals include being named Michigan’s Miss Golf her senior year.

“I tried other sports and just couldn’t get them,” Esordi said. “This is the one I want to stick with and play for the rest of my life.”

Sorenstam is now days away from beginning her 15th season on the LPGA. Everyone knows that she, like Tiger, builds her year around the majors. Everyone also knows that she’s coming back from a nagging neck injury, the first major health setback of her career. A day with Molly, however, put last year’s setbacks in perspective.

“This is her dream and I’m just happy to be a part of it,” said Sorenstam, who showered Molly with gifts from her sponsors – an outfit from Cutter & Buck, Callaway golf clubs and a gift basket from Kraft.

On the course, the media dropped back after two holes so Molly could relax and enjoy her time with Sorenstam. Reporters and television crews have been following the oft-stoic Swede for years. As Sorenstam embarks on what she calls “the back nine” of her career, it’s nice to tell stories that delve beyond those ever-present shades and magic sticks.

After the television cameras had been turned off and Molly faced a far-less intimidating notebook, I asked why she liked Sorenstam. She didn’t mention Annika’s 10 majors or endless supply of record-breaking moments on the LPGA. Didn’t mention the 59 or her snazzy academy.

“She’s not just all about herself,” Esordi said. “She does things for other people.”

Definitely wise beyond her years.

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